The movie “Shrek” introduced the Bonnie Tyler hit “Holding Out for a Hero” to a new generation. (I fully expect to hear it on some commercial for chicken wings soon, as yet another wave of listeners discover it. Probably holding out for some heroic hot sauce.) One reason it keeps reappearing may be because the lyrics resonate so deeply: we are all “holding out for a hero” in some way or another. We admire heroes, and maybe even secretly desire to be seen as one. In our “wildest fantasy” somewhere “just beyond (our) reach,” we hope there really are heroes.
Would You Recognize a Hero?
But what is a hero? We think of a hero as someone who doesn’t falter in the face of fear, who is courageous at all costs. However, have you considered that may not be the only definition of a hero?
Let me explain. There are two kinds of heroes: deliberate and accidental.
We tend to think of accidental heroism as classically “heroic.” Accidental heroism occurs when a major or tragic event has taken place, and a person does something amazing. A person who runs into a burning building to save a child is an “accidental hero”.
Here’s why: when asked how they were able to find the courage, they often say that they weren’t being a hero. They were just doing what anyone would have done.
This is because their action was an act of accidental (aka unconscious) heroism. You might say it was conscious heroism because the person did it deliberately, but I would still say that the person is an accidental hero. They simply did what they did; they were not thinking about whether it was courageous or not. It was simply an unconscious reaction. They became a hero by accident. I am in no way demeaning it yet let’s be clear; this is the kind of heroism we usually recognize.
Because we tend to honor accidental heroism, we can often fail to recognize deliberate heroism. The courage of a deliberate hero is often less dramatic and less grandiose than the courage of an accidental hero. Moreover, it rarely comes with sirens of any kind.
Deliberate heroism requires us to act while consciously feeling terrified. Think Rosa Parks sitting in her seat on the bus! That was real (and very deliberate) heroism.
Here’s one way I came to recognize deliberate heroism. I’ve been doing the work I do for more than 30 years, so I have a good body of research. You may be surprised (or not) that over the years, there have been many people who took an instant dislike to me upon meeting me.
Let me be clear–these are not people I had any kind of a fight with. These are people who I may not have offered any kind of insights or direction to. Perhaps the most interaction we had was general conversation. But for whatever reason, right out of the gate they did not like me. Here’s where it gets really interesting–many of those people have become my most loyal clients and, in some cases, some of my closest friends. So, what happened?
When we initially met, my very presence (my resonance) would somehow bang up against a part (or all) of their unconscious belief systems. To be clear, I realize it was not personal, but my presence and resonance irritated them. You see, when we see something in someone that they don’t want to recognize in themselves (even if it’s good), there will be resistance.
When I (through own my skills and abilities) see the fire in someone, it is my fire that reflects, reminds and can ignite theirs. Even if they had previously managed to hide, dampen and contain it.
For example: I remember being introduced to an international publisher. He was a young man doing fabulous things and, in many ways, turning much of the published world on its head. I was inspired by what he was doing and was eager to meet him. However, when we met, I immediately felt him retract.
At first, I wondered what I’d done or said that had clearly somehow offended him. Later on, I spoke to a friend who told me that the publisher I’d spoken with and somehow offended was a perpetual “nice guy.” I asked my friend what he meant and he said that the publisher always stayed neutral and seemed to lack any real backbone. I found this was very interesting because despite being “perpetually nice,” this person was breaking the rules and doing amazing things I sincerely admired in business.
As I thought about it, I realized that when he heard me speaking out, he immediately judged me as a “brash Aussie.” Because my style (again, not me personally, but the way I presented myself) was so against his own way of being, he instantly put up barriers. My resonance was so out of alignment with his, he had to push me away. To do anything else would have been incredibly uncomfortable for him.
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King Jr.
Fast forward a few years to when the Muslim ban took place under the Trump administration. Suddenly this nice guy came out of his nice shell and began to speak out. He become more brash; he become a deliberate hero.
You see, the ban was having a direct impact on him and the people he cared about, because many of the people who work in his organization are Muslim. Suddenly, he could not stay quiet, even though he was brought up (culturally) to keep his head down and say nothing. He became courageous about his opinions. Having met him before, I can only imagine the conscious courage it would have taken to speak up, to be the voice of the voiceless. I also wonder what would happen if we met today. Would he still feel the need to pull away or would our resonance find common ground?
Being a Dragon
Which brings me to dragons. I realize this seems a bit off-topic, but dragons are important. Here’s why: Dragons are misunderstood. They’re seen as dark figures, but that’s because they’re deliberately heroic. They only show their heroism at great personal cost. In fact, dragons are often the real heroes of a story. I maintain the young man who didn’t like me was a dragon, he just hadn’t embraced it… until he had to. He finally flew into what he perceived as great danger in order to defend something that was even more important to him than his own fear. That not only makes him a dragon but a deliberate hero as well.
In fact, I think that most deliberate heroes are dragons because they are not seen as heroes, and may even be seen as frightening or uncaring. But underneath, they have the courage to challenge the status quo of their own beliefs. They step up and challenge their very identity, or even their culture. And they protect their sacred “treasure” even at the risk of their own lives.
Real heroes are all around us. It’s just that deliberate heroes spend most of their lives “up where the mountains meet the heavens above. Out where the lightning splits the sea.”
It’s only when they feel they have no other choice that they come through wind, chill, rain, storm, and flood and you can feel their approach, “like a fire in (your) blood”—much like the proverbial dragon.
I suggest that you don’t have to wait until “the end of the night” for a hero to accidentally appear. You can be a deliberate hero right now, in your own life. You just have to find your dragon wings.
The Mic is Yours:
I’m curious, will you share with us your story of finding your wings and fire?
Dov Baron, Expert on Leadership
My Authentic Leadership Matrix is free at this link! Why? Because one of the questions I’m most often asked is: What is authentic leadership, and how do we define it? As a result, I’ve created the Authentic Leadership Matrix. It’s designed to give you a clear process of how to perform in each of the five main areas that are required for you to become a world-class authentic leader. Start your yes and no evaluation to discover your leadership traits here: https://matrix.fullmontyleadership.com
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